Finding a link between ‘nature-based solutions’ and international decisions

Rounding the corner into the second week of a slow and largely lifeless COP-17 in Durban, I find myself and my colleagues reflecting on the seeming disconnect between the national-level issues where things are moving and the international realm where we so far seem to be at a familiar negotiation impasse, says IUCN Legal Officer John Costenbader.

John Costenbader

Anyone familiar with IUCN’s recent work in the area of climate change will have heard its battle cry of recent years: ‘nature-based solutions’ to human impacts on the world’s biodiversity and natural resources. As a lawyer, I work on legal issues relating to two of the most famous nature-based solutions, in particular: reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) and ecosystem-based adaptation. During the climate negotiations, I also cover legal framework issues at an international level.

At times like now when it is tempting to say ‘Oh heck who cares about this stagnant process, let’s just go to work on things on the ground where we can see a difference,’ it seems worth recollecting that our work at the national level does not exist in a vacuum. Without the right international rules in place, it would be impossible to have the necessary levels of finance and methodologies in place to the degree needed to make nature-based solutions to climate change work at full-scale.

So, it’s worth taking a step back to consider where we are in Durban and what fundamental issues are needed to develop a supportive legal framework for making ‘nature-based solutions’ work. First, given the changed world political and economic landscape today since several years ago, it is clear that we can no longer expect from Durban (and likely not for a few years) a final legally-binding deal that had been hoped for from Copenhagen in 2009. Nonetheless, there are three main questions on which Parties need to decide that give the climate talks continued importance in Durban.

First, the fate of the Kyoto Protocol or a successor agreement is a critical decision in Durban. Kyoto is the only legally-binding mechanism that we have in place regulating greenhouse gas emissions, so it is critical that we either renew it after 2012, or have in place an even better alternative (see point 2).

Second, Parties need to decide on an extremely clear roadmap to any alternative to replace or supplement Kyoto, which will hopefully bring on a wider array of countries. Closely tied to this decision is that of a legal or political form for a future agreement. So far, most Parties agree on the phrase ‘legally binding,’ but a wide variety of meanings are ascribed to this catchphrase.

Finally, Durban needs to work to begin implementing the broad structures outlined in the Cancun Agreements. In particular, there is a need now for clear rules to provide details to the new institutions developed in COP-16, namely the Green Climate Fund, the Adaptation Framework, decisions on REDD-plus and MRV, and the Periodic Review mechanism.

With four days left, there’s still not a clear indication of any resolution of the above issues. Nonetheless, I hope the above provides some clarity to the connection between our concrete national work and this abstract international level of rules and procedures.

Work area: 
Climate Change
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